September 03, 2016 02:17 AM
By: Max N. Macahilo
Cultural advocates in Negros Occidental are pushing for the inclusion of sugar heritage sites to the World Heritage Sites of the United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The province possesses some of the country’s opulent mansion or “bahay na bato” which continually or formerly owned by families of sugar barons.
These houses are testaments to the indelible impact the sugar industry have created on the cultural and aesthetic core of Negros as one of the most important heritage provinces the country.
Ivan Henares, Heritage Conservation Society president, said the province has a lot of heritage properties waiting to be rediscovered.
Henares went around with the provincial tourism office personnel to map out the sugar cultural landscape of the province.
“The next step is the documentation and historical research and we can start nominating them; the nomination is grounded on good research,” he said.
Henares pointed out that the sugar landscape mapping identifies not only old mansions but also sugar facilities such as antiquated sugar mills, sugar chimneys, and even dilapidated trains that used to haul sugar canes to milling sites.
“The find was so impressive,” he added
He said that after they are done with the nomination dossier, they will also write letters to the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the UNESCO to include the sites on their lists for the Philippines.
The Provincial Capitol, Silay City mansions, and several other sites in La Carlota such as the Infante house and the Lacson house in Talisay were some of the sites under the proposal.
“We have created seven clusters on which every cluster includes several sites that are near to each other,” he said, adding that Silay City, with its numerous old houses located on a particular block or zone, can be nominated as one cluster.
Henares stressed that the convergence of Negros Oriental and Occidental as Negros Island Region is a boon for the project as some of the sugar heritage sites are on the Oriental side such as the Azucarera de Bais, considered as the oldest sugar mill in the country, and the old mansions in Tanjay.
“Steps are also made for a talk with the provincial government of Negros Oriental”, he added.
Aside from the nomination to the UNESCO, the provincial tourism is also pushing for a Sugar Heritage Trail Project which will showcase old mansions as business entity.
“We are encouraging owners to convert their place into a tourism business like transforming it into bed and breakfast, hacienda tourism and authentic Negrense food centers,” Henares said.
He said they will be conducting consultation meetings with the mansion owners for them to be informed of the benefit of the project.
Henares said the nomination with the UNESCO will take several years to be approved but with perseverance and the continual support from the provincial government, they are optimistic the project will prosper and eventually put the Negros sugar heritage sites in the heritage and cultural map.